Three NMU ’Cats sign entry AHL contracts

Trevor Pellerite

The NMU Wildcats will return to the ice next year without two of their top performers. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson and forward Mark Olver, both juniors, signed entry-level contracts with the American Hockey League (AHL) on Tuesday, March 30. The AHL serves as a farm system for prospects of the National Hockey League.

Olver signed with the Lake Erie Monsters, farm team for the Colorado Avalanche, who drafted him in the 2008 entry draft. Gustafsson signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers AHL team, the Adirondack Phantoms.

Head coach Walt Kyle said the move isn’t totally unexpected, but he wasn’t sure if it would happen this offseason.

“We knew it was a possibility that we were going to lose those guys. Going into the year I didn’t think we would because of their size,” Kyle said.

He went on to say that both players had seasons that made themselves more marketable to professional clubs. Olver captured the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) scoring title this season with 35 points off 17 goals and 18 assists, and 49 points (including nonconference) overall on the regular season.

Gustafsson is a two-time winner of the CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman award.

“I thought one of them should probably have stayed, and one of them probably had to take the deal,” Kyle said, declining to say which player was which. “Going wasn’t a bad decision for either one of them.”

Also signing an AHL contract that day was graduating senior Ray Kaunisto (18 goals, 14 assists on the year), who signed a two-year entry level contract with the Los Angeles Kings organization.

“We’ve known (about that) for the last half of the year,” Kyle said. “(Kaunisto) was blessed to have six, seven or eight teams that he could have gone with, and he was able to choose kind of where he wanted to go.”

Despite the departure of so much talent, Kyle is not concerned about the team’s outlook next year.

“We still have a good core of guys coming back,” he said. “We have a bar, a standard that we want for ourselves, it’s almost the same as when we get injuries.”